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by Sender Garlin 



Occasional Paper No. 20 (1976) 




The American Institute for Marxist Studies (AIMS) 
is an educational, research and bibliographical institute. 

Its purposes are to encourage Marxist and radical scholarship 
in the United States and to help bring Marxist thought into 
the forum of reasonable debate to produce dialogue among 
Marxist and non-Marxist scholars and writers. Its policy is 
to avoid sectarian and dogmatic thinking. It engages in no 
political activity and takes no stand on political questions. 

To these ends it invites the support and partici- 
pation of all scholars and public-spirited individuals. 



20 EAST 30th STREET 
NEW YORK, N.Y., 10016 

Copyright 1976 

All Rights Reserved 



John Swinton: American Radical l 

Appendix A: John Swinton 's Interview with Karl Marx 40 

Appendix B: Karl Marx's Comment on the Translating 

of Das Kapital 43 

Selected Bibliography 45 

26 11434 

The world owes more, far more to John Swinton than 

it knows or perhaps ever can know. He was one of 

the real heroes of American history. He lived and 

labored wholly for his fellow-men. He struggled 

bravely with all the adverse fates and forces that 

others might be spared the pains and privations 

that fell to his lot and have life richer and more 

abundant. Aye, he fought as heroically and un- 

selfishly for humanity as any man that ever won 

the crown of martyrdom . 

--Eugene Victor Debs 

The America of today needs to be reminded of men like John 
Swinton, a fighter in labor’s cause as writer, editor, orator and 

Shortly after his death seventy-five years ago, the New York 
Times reported that he had been “the champion of the workingmen with 
voice and pen" and cited the many crusades he had led. Referring to 
the labor publication he founded and edited, John Swinton 's Paper , the 
Times noted that "he had been on the side' - of the masses, but his 
paper died for want of support by them." And it added, in a spirit of 
self-congratulation, that "the very class of people that Swinton tried 
to benefit neglected and frequently condemned him." 

Evidently the Times sought to attribute its own duality to 
Swinton and thus devaluate his accomplishments in the field of labor. 
For while it is well known that Swinton had taken a leading part in 
labor's battles for many decades, it was equally true that he had been 
a prominent and highly-regarded journalist, holding responsible posts 
on both the 'limes and the New York Sun. 

In a tribute in the literary section of the Times shortly 
after Swinton s death, T. C. Evans termed him "aggressive", and "dis- 
putatious." He added, however, that Swinton "lived up to high pro- 
fessional standards and left a name worthy of respectful and admiring 
remembrance . " 

John Swinton was born on December 12, 1829, in Salton, near 
Edinburgh, Scotland. When he was 14 years old his parents moved to 
Canada, settling in Montreal. Shortly thereafter he began work as a 
printer's apprentice on the Montreal Witness , later becoming a journey- 
man printer, an occupation he followed until he became a newspaperman. 
After the family had moved to New York City, Swinton entered Williston 
Seminary in Northampton, Massachusetts. (When he had mastered the 
printing trade, he studied both law and medicine briefly.) 

In the course of a long career, Swinton worked under three 
famous editors: Charles A. Dana, Horace Greeley, and Henry J. Raymond. 
He was associated with major New York newspapers for nearly a half 
century. He worked for the Times from 1860 to 1870. From 1875 to 
1883, and again from 1892 to 1897, Swinton was on the editorial staff 
of the Sun . He also contributed to the New York Tribune , the New York 
World , the Brooklyn Eagle , the Irish World and the Scotsman . 

Swinton lost his eyesight in 1889, but continued his work as 
journalist, teacher and writer until his death in Brooklyn Heights on 
December 15, 1901. He had been ill only 10 days. His wife, the 
daughter of Professor Orson Squire Fowler, a well-known phrenologist, 
survived him. There were no children. His death was noted not only 

- 2 - 

by the Times . the Sun , and the Tribune , but also by a number of Social- 
ist and trade union journals. 

In a commemorative article that appeared on December 28, 

1901, Harper's Weekly declared that "the life work of this stalwart, 
bitter champion of the laborer reads like a romance. It was one con- 
tinuous battle for the rights of the lowly and oppressed .. .a hater of 
sham, he fought bitterly, and with no hope of reward " 

As a journeyman printer, Swinton traveled extensively in the 
South and the West. In 1856 he went to Kansas to take part in the 
free-soil movement, but he arrived too late to join John Brown in the 
struggle. He remained, however, to become manager of the Lawrence . 
(Kansas) Republican . 

On his return to New York, a casual contribution on medicine 
earned him a place on the Times . He became chief editorial writer of 
the paper in 1860. In 1875 Swinton joined Charles A. Dana's Sun , where 
he remained for eight years, becoming the chief of the editorial staff 
of that newspaper. 

Like the friend he so much admired — Walt Whitman — Swinton 
had for years stood at his case ten hours a day, setting type for news 
dispatches and editorials. As a journeyman printer (like Mark Twain 
and William Dean Howells), he saw much of the country, and what he saw 
of chattel slavery, child labor, the sweatshops in the big cities of 
the land stirred him to profound anger. 

The United States, when Swinton was in his twenties, was 
approaching the critical point in its history that culminated in the 


Civil War. In South Carolina he had worked as a compositor in the 

state printing office. Here he risked his life teaching Blacks to read 

and write. The gatherings took place in an underground vault. 

Through the years, Swinton reacted with indignation to the 

misery wrought by half a dozen crises: in 1854, 1857, 1860, 1873, 

1885 and 1894. After the Civil War had formally destroyed slavery, 

he perceived that "free men," Black and white working people, were 

still unfree. And on the 22nd anniversary of the death of John Brown 

Swinton told an audience in the old Turn Hall in New York what the man 

from North Elba in the Adirondacks had meant to him: 

It needs that we recall the stupendous strength 
of the old Slavery establishment — its bulwarks 
of constitutionalism, legality, politics, mercan- 
tilism, capitalism — and ecclesiasticism; it 
needs that we recall the power of the interests 
and passions that environed it, and the sub- 
serviency or timidity of even its opponents, with 
few exceptions, before we can comprehend the in- 
fluence of the man ...who struck through them all, 
and struck to the heart. 

It was a new policy that John Brown brought into 
play against American slavery — the policy of 
meeting it upon its own terms, and its own field, 
confronting with force a system based upon force, 
and establishing human rights by the weapons that 
upheld public wrongs. 

In place of the old way of acquiescing in slavery, 
or compromising with it, or arguing over it, or 
resisting its extension, he adopted the way of 
assailing it by the only means that gave any hope 
of destroying it. John Brown's way was justified 
by the event — justified amid flame and smoke by 
Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of abolition. 

* ★ ★ * ★ 


It was at about this time that a writer for the Brooklyn 

Daily Union described the journalist's "large framed full-faced 
healthy complexion, big brown eyes, a sandy gray moustache, bald, save 
a rim of gray on the outlying county of an immense cranium; a man who 
gives expression with rapidity of utterance and eloquence, now and 
then illuminating his points with a story, an allusion to history, or 

some passage in the classics." 

In a contemporary biography of Swinton, a friend and 
fellow-printer, Robert Waters, described him as a man "above the middle 
height, long-haired, broad-browed, with a dark, keen piercing eye, 
vehement in his denunciation of slavery and fearless in his exposition 
of daring views and noble aspirations.” Waters termed him "a zealous 
disciple of the abolitionists Phillips, Parker, and Garrison... a great 
reader of anti-slavery papers and magazines, he was even then noted 
among his acquaintances for the impetuous ardor with which he assailed 
slavery. He was in full sympathy with the anti-slavery movement of 
that time, while most of his comrades sneered at the Negroes and made 
vulgar jokes about them. " 

His talk. Waters (a fellow-Scotsman and author of a book on 
William Cobbett) recalled, "stirred me more than any man I had so far 
known... He was an ardent admirer of Carlyle, Emerson, Montaigne, and 
Ruskin . " Waters recounts that he left for Europe in 1861 and didn t 
see Swinton again for seven years. "When I returned," he wrote, "I 
found Swinton on of the 'leader writers' for the Times , and well known 
in the literary and political world. He had acquired such a command 

- 5 - 

of language, such a wealth of imagery, and such knowledge of men and 
things, present and past, literary, political and scientific, that I 
thought him by far the best informed and the most brilliant talker I 
had ever known." 

Discussing Waters' book on Swinton in its issue of December 
1902, the International Socialist Review noted; 

Among the names of those who have made smooth the 
way for the Socialist movement in America there 
are few more prominent than that of John Swinton. 

A man of brilliant intellect, a personal friend of 
Karl Marx, an able linguist, a fighter in the 
actual battle of labor, and one of the most prom- 
inent journalists of the United States, his was 
preeminently a life of action and of doing. This 
life is told by a... friend who makes the man live 
before us. 

Some years later, Eugene V. Debs wrote that "in personal 
appearance Swinton was tall, well-proportioned and courtly in manner, 
and one recognized in him at a glance a distinguished personage." His 
features, the famous Socialist and trade union leader reported, were 
"strikingly clear-cut, his eyes were keen and piercing, though kindly, 
his hair snow-white, as were also his moustache and eyebrows, which 
set off his fine, smooth brow and pallid complexion to perfection." 

* * * * * 

In his history of the New York Times , Meyer Berger reports 
that when the paper was young it gave more space to news about science 
than any other New York newspaper. "John Swinton, a Times editorial 
writer, handled most of it." To cite one example; Swinton wrote, and 

- 6 - 

the Times published, three to four columns a day on the meeting of the 
American Scientists Association in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1860, 

"and he contributed editorials on science on the side." 

When Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Specie^ was reprinted 
by D. Appleton & Co. in New York in March of 1860, the Times ran a 3*5- 
column story on the work of the great scientist. This report has gen- 
erally been attributed to Swinton. 

"Mr. Darwin, " the article began, "as the fruit of a quarter- 
century of patient observation and experiment, throws out, in a book 
whose title at least by this time has become familiar to the reading 
public, a series of arguments and inferences so revolutionary as, if 
established, to necessitate a radical reconstruction of the fundamental 
doctrines of natural history." 

The same article, according to the Times historian, recog- 
nized the potential influence of On the Origin of Species , saying: "It 
is clear that here is one of the most important contributions ever 
made to philosophic science; and it is behooving on the scientists, in 
the light of accumulation of evidence which the author has summoned in 
support of his theory, to reconsider the grounds on which their present 
doctrine of the origin of the species is based." 

Swin ton's many-sided interests are also touched upon by 

• v . r >* ; 7 . . ; . • . . / . . * : .'L i i a 

Frank M. O'Brien, chronicler of another New York newspaper on which he 
played a major role. 

• v r . * . r 0 ' ' * v - n • , \ | 4 V 1 • # ♦ 9 * i * I J ' ' • J £ l f; ► 

In The Story of the Sun (1883-1928) , O’Brien writes that 
"John Swinton was among the editorial writers who contributed most to 

- 7 - 

Dana's success ...Swinton, whose specialty was Central American 
affairs and paragraphing, was a Socialist outside the Sun office. He 
delighted to denounce the capitalistic Sun ' in a speech at night and 
tell Mr. Dana l the paper s editor] about it the next morning." 

Raymo nd and the New York Press . August Maverick 

described John Swinton as "a fluent and graceful writer." Swinton, he 
wrote, was a man of "great natural shrewdness and ready wit [who] 
brought to the profession of journalism a keen and just sense of its 
requirements. In a greater degree than almost any other member of his 
profession in this country, he possesses the faculty of pointing a 
paragraph in such a manner that it becomes as effective as the labored 
essay of the didactic writer." 

* * * * * 

Swinton was an activist who did not confine his political 
interests to the editorial sanctum. On September 6, 1883, he appeared 
before the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Education, which was 
holding sessions in New York City. His testimony was prompted by the 
action of Senator Henry W. Blair, a New Hampshire Republican and chair- 
man of the committee, who proposed that the panel travel to various 
cities to take testimony on issues involving labor and capital. 

The New York Times of September 7, 1883 reported the event 
in that intimate, quaint journalistic style now out of fashion: 

John Swinton 's gold-rimmed eye glasses twitched 
nervously on his nose yesterday morning as he 
smilingly admitted to Senator Blair, of the Senate 

- 8 - 

Committee on Education and Labor, that he was an 
editor. He said that he had been connected with 
the press since he was 12 years of age. As a 
newspaperman he had become acquainted with all 
sorts of questions relating to all sorts of men. 

He had given the subject of labor much attention 
and thought, and he had in mind certain measures 
which, if enacted into laws by Congress, would, he 
believed, result to the great benefit of the 
common people . 

These measures, reported the Times correspondent, included: 
the revival of the graduated income tax; the establishment of national 
boards of health, education and public works; formation of a bureau to 
gather statistics on the eight-hour question and on working women and 
children; establishment of postal banks; the enactment of laws to 
prevent the holding of large tracts of land in this country by indivi- 
duals or corporations and, finally, public ownership of the railroads, 
telegraph, coal, iron and gold mines, as well as oil wells. 

On one occasion, presiding at a Cooper Union meeting called 
to protest a New York State Court of Appeals decision nullifying the 
prevailing wage rate, Swinton told the assemblage, "There have been 
more born criminals among the men of the bench than among the pirates 

that ever sailed the high seas." 

The reporter for the New York Times wrote that "this sally 

was greeted with laughter and applause. 

"The bench," Swinton went on, "has always been ready to sell 
out liberty. It supported a king in this country until the revolu- 
tionists put the bench where it came from." 

Swinton 1 s partisanship on the side of labor was no secret to 


his journalistic colleagues, but it was the Tompkins Square unemployed 
demonstration in 1874 which had first brought him into full public 
prominence in that role. The panic of 1873 had strangled industry and 
thousands of New York workers were hurled into unemployemfent, their 
families starving. 

Appearing before the New York State Legislature on March 25 
of that year, Swinton assailed what he termed the "Tompkins Square out- 
rage" and called upon the lawmakers to investigate the situation in 
New York City. He told the legislators: 

In December and January the unemployed and suffer- 
ing people began to feel that the municipal author- 
ities, and more prosperous classes, must — in 
some way — be made aware of their actual condition, 
which had been so strangely misrepresented by more 
than one of the newspapers. There followed a de- 
cision to hold a mass demonstration at Tompkins 
Square, the mayor himself promising to address 
the meeting. 

But now, about ten o’clock, when they were standing 
around peaceably, waiting for the mayor, platoons 
of police suddenly appeared, deployed into the 
square, rushed without warning whatever on the 
helpless and unarmed multitudes, violently assailed 
them with their clubs, struck at heads right and 
left, wounded many, dragged off some thirty or 
forty who were flung into station-houses not un- 
like the Black Hole of Calcutta. 

Gentlemen, is not this a horrible spectacle in a 
civilized country and city? Do you know of any- 
thing like it in the modern experience of any 
other Christian region of the world? 

The editorial funks and intellectual policemen 
have roused prejudices against these their vic- 
tims by saying they were Communists, in league 
with the impending earthquake. Gentlemen, be not 
alarmed by mysterious words, and let not the 
epithet "Communist" stir up the same sort of 

- 10 - 

hydrophobia that the epithet "Abolitionist once 
did. Suppose the ideas of these people were the 
sort which editors and policemen call "Communistic; 
does anyone suppose the thing can be scribbled out 
of their hearts or clubbed out of their heads? 

The authorities were not quelling a riot, for there 
was no riot, and not a man had raised a finger 
when the police unexpectedly sprang to the assault. 

They were not dispersing a mob, for this was not a 
mob, but a peaceable gathering under regular 
authority, few among them being aware that the 
papers of that morning had published a hastily- 
issued prohibitory order. Only two or three of 
the workingmen offered even the slightest resis- 
tance to the onslaught, though it must have been 
hard for some of them, under the circumstances, to 
refrain from defending their lives. None of the 
victims were actually clubbed or trampled to death, 
but many were shockingly wounded. No charges 
could be maintained against the parties arrested, 
and all of them, with one exception, were released 
after various periods of unjustifiable incarceration. 

At the conclusion of his indictment against the New York 

City authorities and their police, Swinton proposed that the Police 

Board which perpetrated these cruel, flagrant and horrible outrages 

against the unemployed and suffering workmen of New York" 'be abolished? 

that instead, a new board be created, to be elected by popular suffrage. 

During major strikes on the railroads and in other industries 

in the seventies, Swinton again addressed a huge demonstration in 

Tompkins Square. A contemporary account says that it was a perilous 

time for oratory, his friends firmly believing that he was endangering 

his life and urged him to keep away from the meeting. Nonetheless, he 

appeared and began his address with these words: "With 8,000 rifles 

and 1,200 clubs drawn upon me — " This time there was no interference 

by the police. 

- 11 - 

In the fall of that year Swinton ran for mayor of New York 
on the Industrial Party ticket. Three years late, as the candidate of 
the Progressive Labor Party for state senator, he waged a vigorous 


Swinton was not alone in his denunciation of contemporary 
outrages. Two other former printers, William Dean Howells and Mark 
Twain, expressed themselves emphatically on the issues of the day. 
Howells, who in 1871 assumed the editorship of the Atlantic Monthly — 
then the most influential literary journal in America — published ar- 
tides on the causes of the depression, civil service reform, immigra- 
tion, feminism and the rights of women. 

"An article on 'Children's Labor,'" writes Robert Lee Hough 
in The Quiet Rebel , "is particularly arresting in its description of 
the evils of child labor...." 

Later, in December, 1880, Howells accepted for publication 
"The Story of a Great Monopoly," Henry Demarest Lloyd's expose of the 
ruthless practices of the Standard Oil Company, and a forerunner of 
the muckraking articles by Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln 
Steffens and John Reed. 

Some time afterward, Howells wrote Mark Twain that labor was 
at last educating itself, that workers would begin to win strikes soon, 
and that the public was being betrayed by the press. Commenting on 
two recent articles by the celebrated author, one of them on the 
Knights of Labor, Howells had written on April 5, 1888: 

- 12 - 

My dear Clemens : 

I have read your two essays with thrills almost 
amounting to yells of satisfaction. It is about 
, the best thing yet said on the subject; but it is 
strange that you can't get a single newspaper to 
face the facts of the situation. Here the fools 
are now all shouting because the Knights of Labor 
have revenged themselves on the Engineers, and the 
C. B. and Q. strike is a failure. No one notices 
how labor has educated itself; no one perceives that 
next time there won't be any revenge or any failure'. 

If ever a public was betrayed by its press, it’s 
ours. No man could safely make himself heard in 
behalf of the strikers any more than for the 
anarchists . " 

The "anarchists" were the Haymarket martyrs. (As a result 
of their struggle for the eight-hour day, seven had been convicted; 
two were given long prison sentences, one committed suicide, and four 
were hanged on November 11, 1887.) ... In a letter to his sister Howells 
had characterized the trial "as an atrocious piece of frenzy and cru- 
elty, for which we must stand ashamed forever before history." Earlier 
in the same letter he said: "Elinor (Mrs. Howells] and I both no long- 
er care for the world's life and would like to be settled down very 
humbly and simply, where we could be socially identified with the prin- 
ciples of progress and sympathy for the struggling masses. 

Howells, who was one of America's leading literary figures, 
"was deeply stirred by the case," writes Alan Calmer in his Labor Agi- 
tator: The Story of Albert R. Parsons . "Although he feared his repu- 
tation and livelihood would be jeopardized, he interceded in their 
behalf. " 

The critical sentiments expressed by Howells found an echo 


from time to time, even in academic circles. Recalling that period in 
his autobiography, Professor Richard T. Ely of the University of Wis- 
consin, and one of the first labor economists in the United States, 
observed : 

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century the 
American people witnessed a crisis in the labor 
movement. It was marked by a deep stirring of the 
masses not a local stirring, not merely a na- 
tional stirring, but an international, world-wide 
stirring of the masses. The manner of producing 
material goods was examined critically and pro- 
nounced faulty. The distribution of these goods 
among the various members of the social organism 
was also critically examined and pronounced ini- 
quitous. Proposals were made for new modes of 
production and distribution of economic goods. 

The masses desired changes not merely in surface 
phenomena, but in the very foundation of the 
social order. 

* * * * * 

A major event in Swin ton's life, and one to which he would 
make frequent reference, was his meeting with Karl Marx in August, 
1880 / at the seaside resort of Ramsgate, in England. The interview 
appeared on page 1 of the New York Sun on September 6, 1880, and was 
later published in "Joh Swinton's Travels: Current Views and Notes of 
Forty Days in France and England." 

Swinton's impressions of the founder of scientific Socialism 
— "one of the most remarkable men of the day" — are fascinating for 
the intimate glimpses one gets of Marx and his immediate family.* 

"A man without desire for fame, caring nothing for the 
fanfaronade of life or the pretense of power; without haste and without 

* For full text of this interview see Appendix • 


rest, a man of strong, broad elevated mind, full of far-reaching pro 
jects , logical methods and practical aims, he has stood and yet stands 
behind more of the earthquakes which have convulsed nations and destroy- 
ed thrones, and do now menace and appall crowned heads and established 
frauds, than any other man in Europe, not excepting Joseph Mazzini 
himself. " 

That Swinton could conceive the impact of Marx's philosophy 
on the world, and view the man and his work with exaltation, is a 
tribute not only to his intellectual capacities, but to his scale of 
values . 

Swinton' s friend and biographer, Robert Waters, reports a 
conversation with Swinton about Marx, and quotes him as saying: "I 
met him in London, and I consider him one of the noblest and most logi- 
cal thinkers I ever knew. ... When I became an editor and saw how for- 
tunes were made by a turn of the hand, by secret combinations of 
capitalists, and how this tended to impoverish the community, I began 
to see that the whole thing was wrong and that the entire system ought 
to be changed." 

Swinton went on to say, according to Waters: "I made the 
acquaintance of Wendell Phillips and found that he, too, had come to 
similar conclusions. He believed that the capitalist system was stead- 
ily undermining the world and bringing his countrymen into a condi- 

tion quite as wretched as that of the Negro slaves; and he vehemently 
condemned it." 

Not long after his meeting with Marx in England, Swinton 



received from him a copy of the French edition of Capital and a letter, 
dated November 4, 1880, thanking him "for your friendly article in the 
Sun," a reference to the Ramsgate interview. (The letter was written 
in English.) 

After reporting that "political interest centers here at 
present on the Irish 'Land Question'," Marx told Swinton of the perse- 
cutions resulting from the Bismarckian Anti-Socialist law. "Liebknecht 
has to enter prison for six months," Marx wrote, adding: "The Anti- 
Socialist Law having failed to overthrow or even to weaken the German 
Social-Democratic organization, Bismarck [the German chancellor] 
clings more desperately to his panacea, and fancies that it must work, 
if only applied on a larger scale. 

"The Anti-Socialist Law, though it could not break and never 
will break our organization, does impose pecuniary sacrifices almost 
impossible to bear. To support the families ruined by the police, to 
keep alive the few papers left to us. to keep up the necessary com- 
munications by secret messengers, to fight the battle on the whole 
line — all this requires money. We are nearly exhausted and forced 
to appeal to our friends and sympathizers in other countries." 

Assuring Swinton that "we here in London, Paris, etc., will 
do our best," Marx called upon the American for assistance. "I be- 
lieve that a man of your influence," he wrote, "might organize a sub- 
scription in the United States." He added that, "Even if the monetary 
result were not important, denunciations of Bismarck's new coup d * e ta t 
in public meetings held by you, reported in the American press. 


reproduced on the other side of the Atlantic, would sorely hit the 
Pomeranian hiobereau [country squire] and be welcomed by all the Social 
ists of Europe." Marx suggested that Swinton get in touch with F. A. 
Sorge, the general secretary of the First International, who lived at 
that time in Hoboken, New Jersey, for further details. 

In the same letter — recalling the time they met in England 
— Marx wrote: "My youngest daughter [Eleanor] who was not at 
Ramsgate — tells me she has cut my portrait from the copy of Capit a l 
I sent you, on the pretext that it was a mere caricature. Well, I 
shall make up for it by a photogram to be taken on the first fine day. 

"Mrs. Marx and the whole family send you their best wishes. 

A second letter dated June 2, 1881 (also written in English) 
was brought by a refugee from tsarist persecution, Leo Hartmann, whom 
Marx recommended to Swinton' s attention. 

"I send you through him a ph tograph of mine; it is rather 

bad, but the only one left to me," Marx wrote. Commenting on Henry 

George's Progress and Poverty , he observed: "I consider it as a last 

attempt to save the capitalistic regime. Of course, this is not the 
meaning of the author, but the older disciples of Ricardo — the 
radical ones — fancied already that by the public appropriation of 
the rent of land everything would be righted. I have referred to this 
doctrine in the Misere de la Philosophie [The Poverty of Philosophy, 
published in 1847] against Proudhon. 

"Mrs. Marx sends you her best compliments. Unfortunately, 
her illness assumes more and more a fatal character." 

In a letter to Sorge dated November 5, 1880, Marx wrote that 
as a result of Bismarck s new sta te — of— siege decrees and the persecu- 
tion of our party organs, it is absolutely necessary to raise money for 
the party. I have therefore written to John Swinton (for a well-meaning 
bourgeois is best suited for this purpose), and told him to apply to 
you for detailed information regarding German conditions."' 

Swinton s role in organizing the movement against Bismarck's 
anti-Social is t law in the United States is illuminated in a recent 
article by Philip S. Foner in the International Review of Social History . 

Referring to Marx's letter for financial assistance, Foner 

writes : 

There is no evidence either that Swinton ever re- 
plied to Marx, or that he and Sorge ever contacted 
each other. But Sorge did inform Marx that he had 
learned that Swinton had revealed that he had re- 
ceived a letter from Marx, but had said he could 
do nothing in the matter other than contribute 
about $100 personally to the cause... Actually, 
while Marx did not mention it, Bismarck’s anti- 
Socialist policy had, from its very inception, 
aroused considerable indignation in this country 
from Socialists, non-Socialist workers, and liber- 
al intellectuals. It took the form of protest 
meetings and the raising of funds for the relief 
of the victims of Bismarckism. Swinton, himself, 
was a leading figure in these protests. 

As an example of this activity, Foner cites a meeting held in 
Chickering Hall, in New York City, where Swinton not only presided, but 
delivered the mein address. After the management had agreed to rent its 

facilities, Swinton observed, that Socialists "had been routed out of 



First Avenue, clubbed out of Tompkins Square, and subjected to the most 

infamous outrages in the Democratic regions of the East Side, and now 

they propose to establish their headquarters in the avenue of the 
aristocracy." -18- 

Shortly after Marx's death' a memorial meeting was held in 

Cooper Union, New York, on March 20, 1883, where all nationalities 

were represented, both on the platform and in the audience, and 

speeches were made in several languages. 

According to Foner, the meeting was the "outstanding memorial 

event held anywhere in the world in the weeks immediately following 
Marx's death." Because of his celebrated interview with Marx, and the 
correspondence that followed, it was most appropriate that Swinton be 

one of the speakers at the memorial meeting. 

The Wpw York Sun of March 21, 1883, headlined the event: 

“Tributes to Karl Marx"— "A Great International Memorial Meeting of 
Workingmen"— "Thousands Turned Away from the Doors of Cooper Union 
"Addresses in English, German, Russian, Bohemian and French." The news- 
paper reported that "if the great hall of Cooper Union had been twice 
as large as it is, it could not have held the vast throng of workingmen 
who gathered last evening to do honor to the memory of Dr. Karl Marx. 

Introduced to loud applause, John Swinton opened his speech 
with these worlds: "It is to make requiem for Karl Marx, who has just 
left the world, that we are here tonight." Referring to his interview 
with Marx three years earlier, Swinton declared that the author of 
Capital was "an observer of American action, and his remarks upon some 
of the formative and substantive forces of American life were full of 
suggestiveness." Swinton summed up his estimate of Marx: 

First — Karl Marx was a man of lofty mind, true 

.- 19 - 

and free, equipped with all the knowledge of the 
times . 

Secondly — It was by his moral nature, his generous 
and radiant qualities, his faith in right and love 
of man, that his mind was controlled. 

Thirdly -- Karl Marx did extraordinary work in the 
world, and when the history of the last forty years 
is revealed, and the movements of which he was a 
promoter, and which are now in progress throughout 
Europe are brought to their consummation, the depth 
and scope of his work will be known. 

Fourthly — Karl Marx proclaimed fruitful ideas to 
mankind -- the comprehensive ideas of unity and 
self-help incarnated in the International Associa- 
tion that have become watchwords of the world's 
workers; the creative ideas upon political economy, 
social forces, industrial cooperation and public 
law that are found in his Capital . and the other 
great underlying ideas of the Revolution whose 
star will soon appear over Europe. 

Fifthly — Karl Marx gave up his whole life for 
the disinherited, neglecting the personal ends he 
might have subserved and the prizes he might have 
won, rendering himself liable to the hostility of 
power, by which he was made an outlaw. 

Finally, in giving all to mankind, Karl Marx gave 
that which was more than aught else when he gave 


Convinced that the true story of labor did not reach working 
people, Swinton in the mid-Eighties launched his own weekly, John 
Swin ton’s Paper . A statement of principles set forth its objectives: 

1. Boldly upholding the rights of Man in the Amer- 
ican Way. 

2. Battling against the Accumulated Wrongs of So- 
ciety and Industry. 



Striving for 
Working men 

the Organization and Interests of 
and giving the news of the Trades 

and Unions. 

4. Uniting the Political Forces, searching for a 
common platform, and giving the news of all 
the Young Bodies in the field. 

5. Warning the American people against the trea- 
sonable and crushing schemes of Millionaires, 
Monopolists and Plutocrats, and against the 
coming Billionaire whose shadow is now loom- 
ing up. 

6. Looking toward better times of fair play and 
Public Welfare. 

Typical headlines: "Millionaire Dodgers — Must Be Forced to 

Pay Their Share of Taxes; Put an End to the Swindling and Perjury of 
the Giants Who Devour Us; The Working Woman: 100,000 of Them Strug- 

gling Through Life in This City." 

A headline in the issue of February 2, 1885, strikes a con- 
temporary note: "England and Ireland: Scope of the New Struggle Against 
Landlordism. " 

Editorials were pithy. News dispatches were brisk. There 
were also advertisements, but not from Big Business. Most were from 
booksellers and other small tradesmen. 

Regular departments included "Trade Unions in the City" and 
"Meetings of the Unions." One issue carried a story by a staff writer 
titled "Two Nights in Poe's Room in Fordham, " a genial essay on William 
Dean Howells, and a list of recommended books and magazines. Another 
issue contained a number of poems and a sketch by Emile Zola. 

’A . , ■ » ■ , 

The August 31, 1884, issue of the paper announced that "we 

- 21 - 

have made arrangements with Mrs. Eleanor Marx Aveling, the daughter of 

the late Karl Marx, for a series of letters from London. We shall next 

week give the first of them, which has just come to hand, and which 

contains some interesting news about the books left by her distinguished 

father, now under preparation for the publisher in London." 

And, indeed, the following issue of John Swinton's Paper 

(September 7, 1884) featured a full column of correspondence from 

Eleanor Aveling Marx. Lt was headlined "Karl Marx’s Daughter — The 

Second Volume of Her Father's Great Work Left Complete — His Life- 

Long Toil." From London, Eleanor Marx wrote: 

Not only Socialists, but all students of political 
economy, are looking forward with interest and im- 
patience to the publication in English of Karl 
Marx's Das Kapital . A translation is now in pro- 
gress of which, at some future date, I shall be 
glad to give full details. At present I can only 
say that the work is in able and loving hands and 
that it probably will appear in two volumes'by 
next Spring. . . . 

The two greatest thinkers of the age — Charles 
Darwin and Karl Marx — who had so many qualities 
in common — were both special examples of the 
capacity of genius for taking infinite pains. 

Both of these men will be remembered for their 
germinal discoveries that revolutionized natural 
science and the science of political economy — 
the one leading the quiet life of the scientific 
discoverer, the other the stormy life of the re- 
volutionist, but both always true to themselves 
and to their work. 

I like to remember — I do not think it has ever 
before been noted — that The Origin of Species 
and the Kritik der Politischen Economie (that con- 
tains the germs of the theories more fully devel- 
oped in Das Kapital ) , were both given to the world 
in 1859.... 

- 22 - 

Five weeks later (October 12, 1884) Swinton published another 
dispatch from Eleanor Marx. The item was headlined "Marx's Daughter - 
Half a Million Men Idle in England; As Many Half- Idle." In her report, 
date lined London, she wrote: "Besides some half million laborers en- 
tirely out of work (in England alone), at least 500,000 men are on 
half time, and those who know what starvation wages of ’full time' mean, 
will readily understand that we are face to face with an immense crisis. 

Articles and editorials in John Swinton' s Paper denounced 
low wages, discriminatory pay for women workers, the high cost of 
living, injunction-granting judges, and members of Congress who op- 
posed a bill calling for the establishment of a bureau of labor stan- 
dards. A special Washington correspondent wrote a story headlined: 
"Bulwark of Capital — The Millionaires Who Rule the Senate Living 
Sketches of Dried Specimens." 

Dispatches from industrial centers described the bitter lot 
of labor" in the mills and mines. And the editor demanded: If Vil- 
lard cannot afford the wages paid to his hands on the Northern Pacific 

Railroad, how can he afford to go on with the building of his million- 

) 1 

dollar palace in this city? If Cyrus W. Field cannot afford to / 
pay his janitors more than $4 a week, how can he afford to feast all 
the British aristocracy?" 

John Swinton 's Paper gave considerable attention to the 
conditions of women and children. There were not only editorials and 
special correspondence, but letters from workers direct from the shops. 

In the issue of March 8, 1885, a story was headlined, "Little 


Mill Slaves — New Child Labor Bill in the New York State Legislature 
— Steps Proposed to Modify the Satanic System Under Which Thousands 
of Children Are Murdered Every Year." Swinton's Albany correspondent 
reported that the measure would apply to places "where machinery pro- 
pelled by steam, water or other mechanical power is used. " Section 1 
of the proposed bill stipulated that no one under 21 "shall be employed 
for more than ten hours a day." 

Under a headline, "A Woman and Her Sisters," a garment worker 
told about "a certain suit company on 14th Street" (in New York City). 

Previous to June," she reported, "the girls had received from 90 cents 
to $1.50 for an entire suit, and 65 cents for ladies' wrappers. The 
workers are often asked, 'Why don't you refuse such prices?' Because 
they tthe employers] would only say to us: 'Go! if you are not satis- 

An account from another worker: "The shop in which I work 
employs sometimes as many as 100 girls, but as 'business is dull, ' 
just now we have no more than 30 at work. Our employer and her sister 

treat us like dogs .... 'What do you mean by such work as this. Miss ?' 

We have all countries represented: about half the girls are Germans; 
about a quarter Irish or Irish-American, and the rest are 'Ninth War- 
ders, ' that means Americans." 

In an editorial (November 1, 1885), Swinton praised the New 
York Central Labor Union for bringing before the public "some of the 
more grievous wrongs of the women — mostly young women." The edi- 
torial went on to say that "it is noble work that has been undertaken 


by the Central Labor Union of this city for protecting the working 
women of the various trades against the countless wrongs to which they 

are subject under our cruel industrial system." 

A page 1 dispatch from Pittsburgh on September 14, 1884, was 
headlined "Brave Women of the Mines." It described a meeting of miners' 
wives and their resolve to "stand by their husbands" who had been jailed 
for strike activities. 

Swinton's concern for working women is also attested to in 
Foner's History of American Labor , which describes a testimonial 
dinner meeting arranged for three women pickets from Yonkers who had 
been arrested. The entire labor movement of New York City had joined 
in this tribute, and John Swinton "had been designated to present them 
with medals in honor of their militancy and courage." 

A direct question on the right of women was put to Swinton 
by a reader from Columbus, Ohio, in the issue of November 4, 1886. 
Addressing her letter "To the Editor," she wrote: "In my wishes of 
good speed for your success in establishing 'the rights of man in the 
American way ' [the first point in the statement of principles of John 
Swinton's Paper] , I with others wish to know if women are to be placed 
upon your platform with equal rights and privileges, and to have fair 
play in the better time that your faithful labor must bring." ' 

Swinton replied: "Most assuredly. When we speak of the 
rights of men, those of women are implied every time, truly and fully 
— her right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness .... In the 
great productive industries into which millions of women are now being 

- 25 - 

driven, the Knights of Labor are steadily striving to secure the en- 
forcement of the following great principle of their platform: ’To se- 
cure for both sexes equal pay for equal work. ' This is not a mere emp- 
ty demand, such as might be put out by double-faced politicians: it 
is meant to take practical shape. 

Women are not only invited to membership in the Knights of 
Labor, but they are eligible to all offices of the Order. 

"Fair play for woman every time!" 

Swinton s sensitivity to the problems of the Black workman 
of his time is revealed in an editorial November 28, 1886, which he 
titled A Mistake of Colored Men." A correspondent in Missouri, he 
wrote, had told of miners who were "supplanted by colored men, " as 
strikebreakers. Commenting on this incident, Swinton wrote that im- 
poverished Negroes "were transferred from the South by the corporation," 
and compared it to the contract system of imported labor. 

Swinton added: "It is hard to find fault with the poor 
colored men for the part they have taken in these inroads; but for the 
capitalists who have brought them to the North, there should be nothing 
short of positive public condemnation. In the country districts of 
the South, the Negro laborers are held in a condition akin to slavery. 
They are paid so little wages, receive so little cash after their fifty 
or seventy-five cents a day suffers from the 'pluck me' system [com- 
pany stores] , that they are easily lured to the North at wages dis- 
gustingly inadequate for white workingmen. The imposition on the 
Negroes is systematically carried out . " vSwinton concluded -.his-. editorial 

- 26 - 

by denouncing the system of convict labor in the South, where Negroes 
are sentenced to "10 and 20 years for petty crimes" for which whites 
would not even be charged. 

Swinton, unfortunately, did not display the same keen sym- 
pathies on the issue of Chinese immigration. His views on the subject 
were first presented in the New York Tribune of June 30, 1870. What 
precipitated this article was the importation in that year of Chinese 
to work in a shoe factory in North Adams, Massachusetts. This action 
was viewed as a threat to unionism and to the movement for the eight- 
hour day. 

According to Dr. Marc Ross, who has made a perceptive study 
of the subject, Swinton' s opposition to the importation of Chinese 
laborers "seems to have been impelled more by desire to protect 
American civilization from the intrusion of an alien and unassimilable 
population than by the implications of their importation for the con- 
ditions of labor of American workers." 

"There is reason to dread the infusion and transfusion of 
the Chinese, Mongolian or Yellow race with the white American race," 
Swinton had written in The New Issue; The Chinese-American Question , 
first published in 1870. And in his own paper he had proclaimed: 

"The Chinese must go; no more mongoliza tion in our country." 

Although Swinton argued that an influx of Chinese laborers 
would depress the wages of native workingmen, his language was un- 
deniable racist; in this he failed to rise above his times and above 
the makers of American policy, who had first denigrated the common 


humanity of the enslaved Blacks, then the freed "people of color." 


On August 7, 1887, there appeared this announcement in 
Swinton' s publication: "For almost four years, at a heavy expense to 
myself, for every week of each year, I have edited and published John 
Swinton' s Paper . My means are no longer sufficient to bear any further 

strain I have sunk tens of thousands of dollars — all of it out 

of my own pocket. In the final number, a fortnight hence, I shall 
give a review of the past and present for the information of all ;.C 
friends — to whom I shall then bid Farewell!" 

Unexpired subscriptions would be credited to another paper, 
Swinton explained, and any sums due advertisers who had paid in advance 
would be sent back at once. 

The final issue of John Swinton 's Paper , on August 21, 1887, 
carried this valedictory: 

To my many faithful friends and sturdy fellow 
workers all over this broad land, who have stood 
by me in this paper, aiding the work it was found- 
ed to promote, or cherishing the principles which 
it has steadily proclaimed I now bid FAREWELL. 

John Swinton 

Two years earlier Swinton had indicated some of the hardships 
he had faced as a labor editor when he said that "there are American 
wage workers, descended from Revolutionary sires, who dare not take 
this paper for fear of the employers. Several men think it is safer 


to get the paper in post-offices distant from their homes. To be 
caught with it in some of the slave mills of New England would cost a 

man as much as his wages are worth." 

One day someone who asked Swinton if he made money on his 
paper got this reply: "Did you ever hear of Washington, or Luther, 
or Garrison, making money by their work? No, sir; only mercenaries 
live to make money." 

Nevertheless, he had to have cash to operate. After his 
paper had been in existence for 16 months, he made a special appeal to 
his readers. Evidently they responded, for Swinton continued publica- 
tion. The paper published for two more years with the help of its 
readers, but finally it had to surrender. Swinton had put $40,000 of 
his personal savings into the venture. Professor Selig Perlman, labor 
historian at the University of Wisconsin, called John Swinton 's Paper 
"the best labor paper printed in the country's history." 

Eugene V. Debs concurred. Describing the publication as "a 
paper of remarkable ability and force," Debs wrote that "it had to 
succumb at last." It was "a menace to Wall Street and the monied 

interests, and they finally succeeded in forcing it to the wall." 

* * * * * 

On the basis of his experience as a journalist, Swinton had 
harsh words for the newspaper business. • .. 

"Journalism, once a profession, and then a trade, 1 - is now a 
crime," he once observed. Upton Sinclair, in his famous Cry for 

- 29 - 

Jus tice j_ Aji„ Anthology of Social Protest (1915), described Swinton as 
"one of American’s boldest and most beloved journalists," and reported 
that Swinton, tendered a banquet by his fellow editors, startled them 
by this response to a "toast" to "the independent" press: "There is 
no such thing in America as an 'independent' press, unless it is in 
the country towns. There's not one of you who would dare write his 

honest opinions, and if you did you know beforehand that it would never 
appear in print." 

In recalling Swinton's comments, Sinclair wrote: "I speak, 
not in my own voice, but in that of an old-time journalist, venerated 
in his day, John Swinton." 

At least one American student of Swinton has expressed skep- 
ticism about the authenticity of the quotation. Dr. Marc Ross cites 
an "investigation" as reported in the April, 1960, Bulletin of the 
American Society of Newspaper Editors . 

The Bulletin quoted Chester M. Lewis, director of archives 
of the New York Times , as stating that he had been unable to locate 
the original source of the remarks* 

In response to a query from Lewis, Sinclair had declared: 
"That Swinton quote haunted me for forty years. It was a sort of 
classic in the Socialist movement, I had seen it often and took it 
for granted....'' (Emphasis added — S.G.) Sinclair added that he 
would not use the quotation in future editions, according to Lewis. 

Not only had Sinclair used the Swinton quote in his Cry for 
Justice . (1915) , but he included it in his famous expose of the 

- 30 - 

American press. The Brass Check (1920), and in successive editions. 

* * * it * 

A featured speaker at the 1892 convention of the American 
Federation of Labor in Philadelphia, Swinton spoke of the "battalions 
that fought this year at Homestead, Buffalo and Coeur d'Alene." He 
urged the delegates to find some way of "unifying the industrial and 
productive elements of the country for the defense against dangers 
that are all too obvious," asking urgently: "Can we not agree upon 
some one thing while differing upon other things?" He suggested that 
"it is time for the struggling working people of the eastern states to 
link arms with the advancing farmers of the resurgent west." 

At workers' gatherings Swinton was generally among the speak- 
ers on the platform. However, one night in the fall of 1894 he was in 
the audience at Cooper Union, in New York, when Eugene V. Debs, who 
had gained fame as a result of the Pullman strike, was the principal 

Thirty- four years earlier, Swinton had listened to another 
gaunt man from the West speaking from the same platform. He was moved 
to make the observation that "Debs in Cooper Union reminded me of 
Lincoln there. As Lincoln, of Illinois, became an efficient agent for 
freedom, so, perchance, might Debs of Indiana become in the impending 
conflict for the liberation of labor." 

Debs was to write in 1918 that Swinton, "who might have had 
unlimited wealth and power and 'fame, ' died in poverty and almost in 
obscurity, because he was truly great and uncompromisingly honest, 

- 31 - 

scorning to barter his principles and convictions for... a life-lease 

of pampered self-indulgence to soften his brain, .eat out his heart, 
and putrefy his soul." 

Swinton had been a staunch supporter of the Pullman strike 
of 1894, which Debs had led and for which he was imprisoned. Four 
years later they became acquainted. The respect and affection that 
existed between them was to be profound. Swinton's speeches, said 
Debs, were "scholarly in thought, classical in composition, and con- 
tain some of the most thrilling passages to be found in American 

John Swinton, like his friend Wendell Phillips, he said, 
understood the labor question in its deeper significance and wider 
aspects; he had a clear grasp of its fundamental principles and its 
international scope and character, and he knew that the labor movement 
was revolutionary and that its mission of emancipating the working 
class from wage slavery could be accomplished only by destroying the 
system and reorganizing society upon a new economic foundation.... 

Both Marx and Swinton are gone, but their work remains and the heroic, 
unselfish examples they set will be a perpetual inspiration to the 
world. " 

Describing the many warm letters he had received from Swinton, 
Debs said that they were "filled with kindnesses, with loyalty and 
greetings and good cheer." In the midst of the Pullman strike, when 
Debs was facing prison, Swinton had written: "You are waging a Napole- 
onic battle amid t the admiration of millions. Be strong. Brother Debs!" 

- 32 - 

In a later letter (June 30, 1897), Swinton wrote Debs that 

"the strength of your faith, the liveliness of your hopes, the persis- 
tency of your valor, the breadth of your thought, and the energy of 
your genius fill me with admiration. These things belong to that kind 
of Americanism which is ever regenerative." He received this letter. 
Debs recounts, after Swinton learned that "the railroad managers had 
sworn that the American Railway Union should not be organized and their 
detectives were dogging my footsteps by day and night." 

When he visited New York, Debs recalled, "the little chats 
we had together were occasions of special enjoyment and delight to me. 
He (Swinton] had the reputation of being somewhat brusque in manner, 
but I never found him so. On the contrary, he was always genial as 
sunshine to me. At his home he was the very soul of hospitality. He 
lived modestly with his wife, whom he addressed as 'angel' and in whom 
he had a most sympathetic and helpful companion in all his arduous 
labors and disappointing experiences." 

Like many radicals of the time, Debs was immensely impressed 
with Swinton's interview with Karl Marx. "He visited Karl Marx," Debs 
wrote, "and it may readily be imagined that these two great revolu- 
tionary souls found genial companionship in each other." 

Swinton and Marx saw "struggle" ahead, Debs wrote, referring 
to the famous Ramsgate interview. Writing during World War I, the 
Socialist leader declared that "the years which have followed have 
amply vindicated their prescience. Struggle there has been over all 
the face of the earth, increasing steadily in violence and intensity 


until today the whole of humanity seems seized with a madness for 
bloodshed and destruction that threatens an upheaval wide as the world 
and unparalleled in world's history." 

A Debs-like spirit animates Swinton’s Striking for Life: 
Labor , s . Side of the Labor Question. In this stirring volume, Swinton 
wrote that it is most certainly an unsatisfactory and unpromising 

outlook under the existing state of things It must be possible for 

the American people to make up their mind that these mighty agencies — 
new forces and new appliances of inventive skill — shall be used for 
public advantage rather than for private enrichment; for the welfare 
of the community, rather than for its impoverishment." 

•’ £' ***** 

An equally good friend had been Walt Whitman. And the bond 

between Swinton and the poet became even closer when together they 

visited the Civil War wounded. Swinton recalled: 

...I saw him [Whitman] time and again, in the Wash- 
ington hospitals, or wending his way there with 
basket or haversack on his arm, and the strength 
of beneficence suffusing his face. His devotion 
surpassed the devotion of woman. It would take a 
volume to tell of his kindness, tenderness, and 
thoughtfulness . 

Never shall I forget one night when I accompanied 
him on his rounds through a hospital, filled with 
those wounded young Americans whose heroism he has 
sung in deathless numbers. There were three rows 
of cots, and each cot bore its man. When he ap- 
peared, in passing along, there was a smile of 
affection „ and welcome on every face, however wan, 
and his presence seemed to light up the place as 
it might be lit by the presence of the Son of Love. 

From cot to cot they called him often in tremulous 
tones or in whispers; they embraced him, they 


touched his hand, they gazed at him* To one he 
gave a few words of cheer, for another he wrote a 
letter home, to others he gave an orange, a few 
comfits, a cigar, a pipe and tobacco, a sheet of 
paper or a postage stamp, all of which and many 
other things were in his capacious haversack. 

From another he would receive a dying message for 
mother, wife, or sweetheart; for another he would 
promise to go an errand; to another, some special 
friend, very low, he would give a manly farewell 
kiss. He did the things for them which no nurse 
or doctor could do, and he seemed to leave a bene- 
diction at every cot as he passed along. The 
lights had gleamed for hours in the hospital that, 
night before he left it, and as he took his way 
towards the door, you could hear the voice of many 
a stricken hero calling, "Walt, Walt, Walt, come 
again I come againl" 

His basket and stores, filled with all sorts of 
odds and ends for the men, had been emptied. He 
had really little to give, but it seemed to me as 
though he gave more than other men. 

* * * * * 

In a letter to Whitman Swinton had expressed his enthusiasm 
for Leaves of Grass . "My dear and great Walt," he wrote, "I want to 
see you that I may get another copy of the Leaves and subscribe an X 
for expense of publication. I am profoundly impressed with the great 
humanity, or genius, that expressed itself through you.... I could con- 
vey no idea to you how it affects roy soul. It is more to me than 
all other books and poetry." 

A passionate admirer of Whitman's writings, Swinton helped 
to bring his books to the attention of the public. On October 1, 1868, 
for example, the following item appeared in the "Minor Topics" column 
which Swinton conducted in the New York Times : 


"With the bright crispy Autumn weather Walt Whitman again 
makes his appearance on the sidewalks of Broadway. His large, massive 
personality his grave and prophetic, yet free and manly appearance 
— — his insoucience of manner and movement — — his easy and negligent, 
yet clean and wholesome dress — to make up a figure of an individual- 
ity that attracts the attention of every passer-by." 

The article then informed readers of the growth of Whitman's 
reputation abroad. "Rossetti has classed him with Homer and one or 
two other great poetic geniuses of the world." Moreover, the famous 
German poet Freiligrath [friend of Karl Marx] was planning to trans- 
late Leaves of Grass . The item concluded with the announcement of the 
forthcoming publication of "a small work in prose," Democratic Vistas . 

Swinton did not confine himself to publicizing Whitman's 
writings; he helped promote them in a most practical way, sending him 
printed forms for potential purchasers of books, editions of which were 
sold by the poet by subscription for some twenty years. 

In a note "to various friends," Whitman wrote that "in a 
letter from my friend John Swinton, he speaks of your kind desire to 
subscribe for some copies.... I send you enclosed slips. Of course I 
should be happy to furnish you with any copies. I am still jogging 
along here in the two-thirds ill, one-third well condition of these 
late years." 

Swinton often expressed the view that labor's progress was 
slow. Whitman’s close friend, Horace Traubel, in his With Walt Whitman 
in Camden , recorded that "Swinton sometimes seems to get in the dumps 


awful... is down in the mouth about the tardiness of the people to 
respond to the appeal of the economic radicals." And Traubel commented, 
"The people will come along in their own time — yes, and take their 
time . " 

Chatting with Whitman one day in April, 1888, Horace Traubel 
mentioned Swinton. "John, you know," Walt said, "is stormy, tempestuous 
-- raises a hell of a row over things -- yet underneath all is nothing 
that is not noble, sweet, sane." These remarks were prompted by the 
turning up of a letter Swinton had written him about four years earlier, 
described by Whitman as "almost like a love letter," but not unusual 
in the fervid rhetoric of the day. 

Swinton had written: 

Mv beloved Walt — I have read the sublime poem of 
the Universal once and again, and yet again — see- 
ing it in the Graphic . Post , Mail , World , and many 
other papers. It is^ sublime. It raised my mind 
to its own sublimity. It seems to me the sublimest 
of all your poems. I cannot help reading it every 
once of a while. I return to it as a fountain of 

My beloved Walt. You know how I have worshipped 
you, without change or cessation, for twenty years. 

While my soul exists, that worship must be ever 

It was perhaps the very day of the publication of 
the first edition of the Leaves of Grass that I 
saw a copy of it at a newspaper stand in Fulton 
Street, Brooklyn. I got it, looked into it with 
wonder, and felt that here was some ting that 
touched the depths of my humanity. Since then you 
have grown before me, grown around me, and grown 
into me. 

I expected certainly to go down to Camden last fall 
to see you. But something prevented. And, in time 


I saw xn the papers that you had recovered. The 
New Year took me into a new field of action among 
the miserables . Oh, what scenes of human horror 
were to be found in this city last winter. I can- 
not tell you how much I was engaged, or all I did 
for three months. I must wait till I see you to 
tell you about these things. I have been going to- 
ward social radicalism of late years... Now I would 
like to see you, in order to temper my heart, and 
expand my narrowness. 

How absurd it is to suppose that there is any ail- 
ment in the brain of a man who can generate the 
poem of the Universal. I would parody Lincoln and 
say that such kind of ailment ought to spread. 

My beloved Walt. Tell me if you would like me to 
come to see you, and perhaps I can do so within a 
few weeks . 

Traubel reports: "I quoted W. that phrase from Swinton' s 
letter, 'I have been going toward social radicalism of late years.' 
Yes, said W., "I remember it. Are we not all going that way or al- 
ready gone?'" 


It was Swinton who first brought Leaves of Grass to the attention 
of Russian readers via the circuitous route of a lecture on American 
literature to a German society in New York City, and later before the 
Philosophical Society of Williamsburg, in Brooklyn. A translation of 
the lecture later appeared in Zagranichny Vestnik (Foreign Herald), 
in 1882. 

Calling his attention to the article, Swinton wrote Whitman: 
"Now I have the magazine and you have a very heavy puff in the organ 
which is studied by all the powerful and intellectual classes of Russia. 
Traubel reports that Whitman asked him to read the letter 


aloud, and when he had finished the poet said: "That has a real sound 
It seems to take me way off into a strange country, and set me down 

there I'm as much for all countries as for one and I suppose I am 

so that I should not feel like an alien even over in that great Tartar 
Empire . " 

* ★ * * * 

Despite his intense admiration for Marx, Swinton was not a 
scientific Socialist. His outlook was close to that of the utopian 
Socialists of the time. His ardor was all for labor's cause, his jour 
nalistic talents were dedicated to working people. His eyes had been 
opened to some of the evils of American capitalist society; his pas- 
sionate reaction to these evils made him a forerunner of the "muck- 
rakers" of the next generation. 

Viewing his life, work and development in their totality, 
John Swinton merits greater recognition than has so far been accorded 
him. He was an outstanding American who not only exposed and fought 
the venality of the prevailing social system but saw the need and had 
the hope for a far more humanistic social order. 

# # # # # 


Appendix A 

John Swint on 1 s Interview with Karl Marx 

(August, 1880) * 

One of the most remarkable men of the day, who has played 
an inscrutable but puissant part in the revolutionary politics 
of the past 40 years, is Karl Marx. A man without desire for 
show or fame, caring nothing for the fanfaronade of life or 
the pretense of power, without haste and without rest, a man 
strong, broad, elevated mind, full of far-reaching pro- 
jects, logical methods and practical aims, he has stood and 
yet stands behind more of the earthquakes which have con- 
vulsed nations and destroyed thrones, and do now menace and 
appall crowned heads and established frauds, than any other 
man in Europe, not excepting Joseph Mazzini himself. 

The student of Berlin, the critic of Hegelianism, the 
editor of papers and the old-time correspondent of the New 
York Tribune , he showed his qualities and his spirit; the 
founder and master spirit of the once dreaded International, 
and the author of Capita 1 , he has been expelled from half the 
countries of Europe, proscribed in nearly all of them, and 
for 30 years past has found refuge in London. He was at 
Ramsgate, the great seashore resort of the Londoners, while 
I was in London, and there I found him in his cottage, with 
his family of two generations. The saintly-faced, sweet- 
voiced, graceful woman of suavity, who welcomed me at the 
door, was evidently the mistress of the house and the wife 
of Karl Marx. And is this massive-headed, generous featur- 
ed, courtly., kindly man of 60, with the bushy masses of 
long, revelling gray hair y Karl Marx? 

His dialogue reminded me of that of Socrates — so free, 
so sweeping, so creative, so incisive, so genuine — with 
its sardonic touches, its gleams of humor, and its sportive 
merriment. He spoke of the political forces and popular 
movements of the various countries of Europe -- the vast 
current of the spirit of Russia, the motions of the German 
mind, the action of France, the immobility of England. He 
spoke hopefully of Russia, philosophically of Germany, 
cheerfully of France, and somberly of England — referring 

* New York Sun , September 6, 1880; reprinted in John Swinton' s 
Travels: Current Views and Notes of Forty Days in France & 

England . 


contemptuously to the "atomistic reforms" over which the 
Liberals of the British Parliament spend their time. Sur- 
veying the European world, country after country, indicating 
the features and the developments and the personages of the 
surface and under the surface, he showed that things were 
working toward ends which will assuredly be realized. I was 
often surprised as he spoke. It was evident that this man, 
of whom so little is seen or heard, is deep in the times,* 
and that, from the Neva to the Seine, from the Urals to the 
Pyrenees, his hand is at work preparing the way for the new 
advent. Nor is his work wasted now any more than it has been 
in the past, during which so many desirable changes have been 
brought about, so many heroic struggles have been seen, and 
the French Republic has been set up on the heights. 

As he spoke, the question I had put, "Why are you doing 
nothing now? 1 ' was seen to be a question of the unlearned, 
and one to which he could not make direct answer . Inquiring 
why his great work. Capital , the seed field of so many crops, 
had not been put into Russian and French from the original 
German, he seemed unable to tell, but said that a proposition 
for an English translation had come to him from New York. 

He said that that book was but a fragment, a single part of 
a work in three parts, two of the parts being yet unpublish- 
ed, the full trilogy being "Land," "Capital," "Credit," the 
last part, he said, being largely illustrated from the United 
States, where credit has had such an amazing development. 

Mr. Marx is an observer of American action, and his remarks 
upon some of the formative and substantive forces of Ameri- 
can life were full of suggestiveness. By the way, in re- 
ferring to his Capital , he said that anyone who might want 
to read it would find the French translation superior in 
many ways to the German original. Mr. Marx referred to Henri 
Rochefort, the Frenchman, and in his talk of some of his 
dead disciples, the stormy Bakunin, the brilliant Lassalle 
and others, I could see how deeply his genius had taken hold 
of men who, under the circumstances, might have directed the 
course of history. 

The afternoon is waning toward the long twilight of an 
English summer evening as Mr. Marx discourses, and he pro- 
poses a walk through the seaside town and along the shore to 
the beach, upon which we see many thousand people, largely 
children disporting themselves. Here we find on the sands 
his family party — the wife, who had already welcomed me, 
his two daughters with their children, and his two sons-in- 
law, one of whom is professor in Kings College, London, and 
the other, I believe, a man of letters. It was a delightful 
party — about ten in all — the father of the two young 

- 41 - 

wives, who were happy with their children, and the grandmother 
of the children, rich in the joysomeness and serenity of her 
wifely nature. Not less finely than Victor Hugo himself does 
arl Marx understand the art of being a grandfather; tut more 
fortunate than Hugo, the married children of Marx live to 
make jocund his years. 

Toward nightfall, he and his sons-in-law part from their 
families to pass an hour with their American guest. And the 
talk was of the world, and of man, and of time, and of ideas, 
as our glasses tinkled over the sea. The railway train 
waits for no man, and night is at hand. Over the thought of 
the babblement and rack of the age and the ages, over the 
talk of the day and the scenes of the evening, arose in my 
mind one question touching upon the final law of being, for 
which I would seek answer from this sage. Going down to the 
depths of language and rising to the height of emphasis, dur- 
ing an interspace of silence, I interrupted the revolutionist 
and philosopher in these fateful words: "What is?" 

And it seemed as though his mind were inverted for a 
moment while he looked upon the roaring sea in front and 
the restless multitude upon the beach. "What is?" I had 
inquired, to which, in deep and solemn tone, he replied: 
"Struggle!" At first it seemed as though I had heard the 
echo of despair: but peradventure it was the law of life. 

- 42 - 

Appendix B 

Karl Marx's Comments on the Translating of "Das Kapital" * 

by John Swinton 

There is a rumpus among the disciples of Karl Marx in 
London about the translating from German into English of his 
masterpiece, "Capital." It has just been translated by John 
Broadhouse, and is now being published piecemeal, in the 
London magazine. The Day . But Frederick Engels, one of Mr. 
Marx's literary executors, has fired a broadside into Broad- 
house's translation. He shows that Broadhouse has an im- 
perfect knowledge of German, with a feeble command of English, 
and that he is wholly unfitted to translate this most un- 
translatable of German prose writers. 

This squabble recalls to my mind the remarks made to me 
about the translation of Capita 1 by Karl Marx himself, when 
I spent an afternoon with him at the English town of Rams- 
gate five yers ago. Asking him why it had not been put in 
English, as it had been put in French and Russian, from the 
original German, he replied that a proposition for an English 
translation had come to him from New York, and then he went 
on to make other remarks that ought to be of interest to 
both Broadhouse and Engels. He said that his German text 
was often obscure and that it would be found exceedingly 
difficult to turn it into English. "But look at the 
translation into French," he said as he presented me with a 
copy of the Paris edition of "Le Capital." "That," he con- 
tinued, "is far clearer, and the style better than the 
German original. It is from this that the translation into 
English ought to be made, and I wish you would say so to 
any one in New York who may try to put the book into Eng- 
lish. I really took great pain in revising this French 
translation which was made by J. Roy; I went over every word 
of the French manuscript and much of the language and many 
of the passages so hard to turn from German into English can be 
easily translated from the French version. When it is put 
into English," he repeated, "let the French version be used." 

These are the words of Karl Marx himself which are now 
for the first time put in print. 

♦From John Swinton 's Paper . November 29, 1885. 


A few days ago in taking up the first chapter of Mr. 
roadhouse's translation, my eye fell on a sentence so ob- 
scure as to be unintelligible, but in turning to the French 
version, the meaning of the sentence was plain. 

It would seem as though Mr. Marx's literary executors 
must have heard from his own lips what he said to me in 
August of 1880. 



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The author is grateful for courtesies extended by the staff 
of Tamiment Library (New York University) , which made avail- 
able John Swinton* s Paper (1883-1887) on microfilm, as well 
as other rare resource materials. I would also like to thank 
my daughter, Emily, for her painstaking copy editing and 
proofreading of the manuscript. 

# # # # # 

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